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Gay-Pride Parade Kicks Off In Kyiv

People take part in the annual Pride parade in Kiev, Ukraine, June 23, 2019.

Thousands of supporters of LGBT rights marched in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv under a heavy police presence.

They marched in the center of the capital on June 23 while waving rainbow and Ukrainian flags as thousands of police and National Guard troops stood by to ensure order.

Organizers of the "March of Equality" said about 8,000 people took part in the event.

Several Western diplomats are also attending the event.

​Organizers said they had invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to join the parade.

"Unfortunately, there was no reaction from the president," Ruslana Panukhnyk, director of the NGO KyivPride that organizes the parade, told AFP.

Opponents held up antigay banners and shouted "Shame" as the procession began.

Police said that nine people were arrested on suspicion of preparing provocations against participants in the Kyiv Pride event.

Organizers have said that their goal is to promote “full respect” for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) minority.

The Pride parade has been held in Kyiv since 2016 amid protests by opponents, including right-wing activists and representatives of religious organizations.

Attacks and harassment against gays and other minorities are fairly common in Ukraine.

Last year, activists for transgender rights were forced to disband a demonstration in Kyiv after counterdemonstrators assaulted several protesters and attacked a Canadian journalist trying to cover the event.